In 2014 something like 20 of Hollywood’s 25 big releases are supposedly going to be either remakes or sequels. I know for sure one of them is going to be a movie based on a video game. A plot-less video game, no less. Elsewhere, fewer than half a dozen companies own all of commercial radio. Wonder why you’re hearing the same songs over and over again (assuming you listen to music radio) wondering (if you wonder such things) when, if ever, they’re going to add something new? Not familiar with these points of reference? Perhaps you’ve noticed, then, that (unofficially) about 80% of all literary short stories are written in the same tone, from the same P.O.V. (first), about the same general subjects with the same level of raw irony, profanity, and milk-toast “shock” content to the degree that it’s really pretty difficult to tell one narrative voice from the next.
This is my experience, anyway.
I use the 80% figure as a general estimate. I could be wrong. I mean, hell, I have whole volumes of literary journals on my shelves in which I can’t get through a single story.
Call me jaded. I have a story that I’ve been shopping and of which I am quite proud. It’s nothing like other stories I’ve seen, and while it isn’t as bold and vibrant as some I have seen, it’s also unusual, more silky and ethereal than it is harsh and frenetic. Inspired by the music of Beach House and Deer Tick, it has the feel (to me) of the sweetly nightmarish videos of the former with the straight sentimentality of the latter. I even quote Deer Tick at the opening. Yet, despite being praised for containing “beautiful writing” it hasn’t caught on anywhere. Could this be because it’s a little off center from what is being published right now?
I freely acknowledge that I am teetering toward the edge of paranoia here, and I’m not about to tell publishers how to do their jobs. They have a hard job to do, and shoveling through mounds of unacceptable stories is just part of the burden these poor souls must bear. Still, in looking at the veneer of schlock that permeates our culture, the question remains: are we in a cookie-cutter era?
My favorite line in all of literature (yes, I may have mentioned this before, and I’m sure I will again) happens in Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being when Sabina says to Tomas, “in the kingdom of kitsch you would be a monster.” I think of myself, too, as being a monster in the kingdom of kitsch. Give me something off-center, give me unique, dreamy, nightmarish if you have to. Just don’t bore me by offering the expected.
But that’s me. There are practical reasons for a cookie-cutter approach to entertainment. Within a given society there is, at a minimum, about 60% of a population that is unwilling to embrace change and anything new. This section is satisfied most with the simpler, more convenient offerings of its culture, preferring that the bulk of thinking be foisted upon others. This “spoon-feeding” of ideas is replete throughout our culture foremost in our media. Marketing, news, politics, entertainment. Sex and violence and a little more distraction from the presence of the mortal coil. So from the perspective of those making a living off the dollar of the rest of us, 60% of an entire culture is not bad.
Just imagine, however, if 60% of us demanded thought-provoking, critically valid new ideas. Our collective intelligence would no doubt sky-rocket and we as a society, and furthermore as a species, would reach levels of enlightenment in the span of one generation never before seen.
Ah, well, it’s a beautiful thought anyway.
I guess the point is that, regardless of the culture we live in we must do what we do. If kitsch is your thing, and if it makes you happy and successful, then who’s to say it’s wrong? For those of us who resist, who even fight to undermine it, our lot is something different, perhaps success of a different kind. And I suppose it’s what we deserve. Our ideals are, after all, centered on things considered to be anti-success by societal standards. We say, in our words and actions, that wealth and fame and praise and prizes are not important. And are they, in the end? Not in the end they are not. But in the present, well, there is a bit to be said about the lost moments.
What is one to do, finally, except to say that we creative types must make our art the way we do. Some of us can bend and mold our work to suit the expectations of the time. Some of us cannot, or will not, and neither way is right or wrong. When all is said and done, and when we are at the end at last, all we can say is we tried, and in trying we only failed if we gave up.
Do not let this be the legacy – if nothing else – do not give up.